Feel

Feel

2019.02.10

Mindfulness – The Human Spirit

 

 

My vacation is over and I realized through it all that some things never change.  Whether we are on vacation, at a spiritual retreat, or caught up in the busyness of everyday living, we continue to feel.  For the last decade, it seems like all we hear about are opinions rather than facts and how we should feel.  It is enough to make a person want to hide.  At a time when most people need to cool down and stop spreading the hateful, nonproductive rhetoric that marked the last several years of political mudslinging in the USA and worldwide, it might seem strange that I am encouraging you to be open and feel.

 

I sincerely hope I get some responses to this question:  How do you feel?  I am not asking just about how you feel regarding the political verbiage.  I am asking how you feel… in general and specifically.  How do you feel?  It really is not a trick question.  Nor is it a complex one.  How do you feel?  The reason I am asking you is that feelings matter.  They comprise the very core of who we are.

 

Feelings are important.  The University of Wisconsin encourages students to consider their feelings as a barometer of their own health and emotional well-being.  “Feelings provide essential information about our reactions to situations. They are often our best clue to the meaning of our current experience — they are less “processed” and more “raw” than our thoughts. They can provide accurate feedback on our current “inside” state.”

 

Eckhart Tolle explains the important of our feelings this way.  “Emotion arises at the place where mind and body meet. It is the body’s reaction to your mind – or you might say, a reflection of your mind in the body. For example, an attack thought or a hostile thought will create a build-up of energy in the body that we call anger. The body is getting ready to fight. The thought that you are being threatened, physically or psychologically, causes the body to contract, and this is the physical side of what we call fear. Research has shown that strong emotions even cause changes in the biochemistry of the body. These biochemical changes represent the physical or material aspect of the emotion.”

 

Emotional competency is a popular phrase that is trending right now and learning to recognize the emotions of others as well as ourselves helps build strong relationships.  That brings me to my intention with today’s post.  How are you feeling?  Have you realized that others are feeling those same emotions?  We all experience the same feelings.  Perhaps not at the same time and not in the same consequential fashion but we all experience the same emotions.  At some point we have all felt happy, sad, proud, scared, jealous, hopeful, envious, sorry, tired, exasperated, sympathetic, upset, overjoyed, angry, elated, relieved, grateful, bored, excited….. The list could go on and on.  We all feel the exact same way although not at the exact same time.  Why?  Because we really are, at our core, similar. 

 

Some might argue that not all of these are emotions.  Some would characterize them as mental states of being.  In the 1991 book, “Emotion and Adaptation”, author Richard Lazarus lists several mental states that may be emotion related, but are not themselves actual emotions. The list includes the complex states of: grief and depression; the ambiguous positive states of: expansiveness, awe, confidence, challenge, determination, satisfaction, and being pleased; the ambiguous negative states of: threat, frustration, disappointment, helplessness, meaningless, and awe; the mental confusion states of bewilderment and confusion; the arousal states of: excitement, upset, distress, nervousness, tension, and agitation; and finally the pre-emotions of: interest, curiosity, amazement, anticipation, alertness, and surprise.

 

Again, we all experience those very same mental states of being.  Why?  Because they are related to our emotions, the very same emotions we all experience.  So how does this affect our actions?  After all, most words used to describe emotions are adjectives, not verbs.  It is relevant because our emotions often affect and determine our actions.  More importantly, when we criticize others for their feelings, we limit our right to experience those very same feelings.

 

No one is so good that they should not experience sadness and we all, at some point in time, will.  Even the bravest of us have felt fear and I sincerely hope that we all have hope.  My wish is that I get back hundreds of responses telling me people felt happy, relief, joy, gratitude, etc. but the reality is that some today experienced grief, uncertainty, or pain.  Life is not easy.  Not all feelings are going to be positive.

 

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times? …As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”  This passage from Cornelia Funke’s book “Inkspell” refers to reading a book but I think it applies to our feelings.

 

Feelings broaden our perspective and when we allow others to have those very same feelings, we broaden our world.  We begin to see that the world is not made up of many different people but of different variations of ourselves.  The outside packaging might look very different but each is a version of one, at different stages.  When we learn to respond to the pain of others, listen to their feelings, then we can begin to be together, truly together, living in peace and harmony. 

Veer

12 Days of Kindness

Christmas 11

Veer

 

“Oftentimes, people reflect on their lives and wonder how they came to be at a certain crossroad or exactly how they got where they ended up. This can apply to anything in life, be it career choices, our choices of marriage partners or even personal decisions we’ve made, crises we’ve lived through.. A path is just that; a means of getting from one place to another and made up of individual stones or paces we take one after the other…When we start out on a certain path in our life, we don’t have the luxury of seeing where our footsteps will lead us…That’s the beauty of living…Every decision we make along the way leads us to more paths and so on and so on until by the end of our days, our life is one continuous string of smaller paths we have taken…All combined to make the final trail…Is it fate that leads us to veer from the original path we had in mind or is it something called destiny? Or is it a certain amount of luck, good and bad, or personal choice?”

 

I found the above quote online but could not find by whom it was said.  We could spend days discussing it and whether or not the things said were true.  One thing is clear, though.  Our lives do contain those moments in which we seem to head “off course” only later to wonder if the “off course” was really the course we really needed to follow.  Sometimes life’s detours take us where we needed to be all along.

 

Some of the sweetest fruits look ugly on the outside.  The rough texture of the skin of an avocado is in direct contrast to the smooth inner texture of the fruit hiding inside.  Somewhat a color much like algae, who would expect the fruit of the avocado, often considered a bit bland, to be considered a superfood?  Life often hides its treasures in the same way.

 

A friend of mine considers people who never think outside of the box to be people who believe in a “small God”.  People who discriminate do so, according to my friend, because they cannot conceive of a God who has children that look different than they do.  Such people, my friend believes, have a narrow vision of their deity, a tunnel vision that does not allow for any colors beyond the primary colors, nor people who are different than they.  In short, my friend concludes, they have a small, boring, bland God.

 

There are times when the world seems too vivid, life’s happenings too real and far too painful.  There are days when bland and boring would seem like a gift to me.  Then I realize that such bland and boring days would teach me nothing, give me no new opportunities to grow, and usually do not offer a reason to smile or laugh or feel the joy of life.

 

In her book “Rise Up and Salute the Sun”, Suzy Kassem wrote:  “I have been finding treasures in places I did not want to search. I have been hearing wisdom from tongues I did not want to listen. I have been finding beauty where I did not want to look. And I have learned so much from journeys I did not want to take. Forgive me, O Gracious One; for I have been closing my ears and eyes for too long. I have learned that miracles are only called miracles because they are often witnessed by only those who can see through all of life’s illusions. I am ready to see what really exists on other side, what exists behind the blinds, and taste all the ugly fruit instead of all that looks right, plump and ripe.”

 

Today your challenge is to veer just a little bit off the beaten path you usually take and experience a fuller life.  Perhaps it will be to take a different route home.  Maybe you will select a different entrée to eat or just add a slice of avocado on a burger or to top off a baked potato.  Maybe instead of watching television you will exercise or perhaps,  or maybe you will put a treadmill in the room with your television or computer and do two things at once for a brief period.  Maybe you will stop by a mall on the way home and walk inside, not purchasing anything, just getting some exercise and smiling at those you pass.

 

A popular viral video on Facebook features a toddler standing by the glass railing of an escalator.  People descend to the floor below on the escalator as the toddler waves goodbye.  Some never veer from their routine, never see her wave or smile, never realize someone has just shared the joy of life and caring about their journey with them.  Others, however, do see her, the motion of her hand catching the corner of their eye.  Instead of going down the escalator like they usually do, caught up in their own world, they veer from their norm and return her wave.  Some smile back, and there are a few that even respond with their own “Bye bye!”

 

“In life one has a choice to take one of two paths: to wait for some special day – or to celebrate each special day.” Rasheed Ogunlaru’s quote speaks to our challenge today.  We can either stay on our regular course, limiting not only our God but our life, or we can realize that today is special just be being.  Veer away from the humdrum of the regular routine and see the beauty of the moment.  Let your deity be all that he/she could be and your life will be as well.

 

Dare

Dare

2019.01.01

12 Days of Kindness

 

It is an old colloquialism. “Milking” someone means to con them out of something. In the song “Twelve Days of Christmas”, day eight is “eight maids a milking”. While it is doubtful that this is what the song means, eight maidens going about conning people out of their possessions or money, it is quite fitting if you live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For it is on this day eight of Christmas tide, this celebration of the New Year, that people participate in what is called the oldest American folk tradition still in existence – being a Mummer!

 

The Christian calendar has December 21st as the feast of St Thomas and to commemorate it, people went about collecting money for charity. Prior to that, the poor would stand outside the wealthy landowner’s house begging for a bit of starter for their Christmas or plum puddings. The puddings were more a wheat porridge with things added such as fruit or meat suet since most poor people could only obtain the discarded part of the meat. Over time fermenters were added to prolong the shelf life of the pudding and plums were replaced by the more affordable and available raisins.

 

The first president of the United States of America George Washington supported the tradition of mummers, groups who by this time had evolved into charitable carolers who celebrated the joy of the season of Christmastide and showed love for their fellow man by collecting things given to the less fortunate. Today this tradition continues in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania every New Year’s Day. The Mummer’s Day Parade is not just a time of festivities amid the bleak winter horizon. It is a joining of cultures and traditions.

 

In Ireland mummers were often seen on St Stephen’s Day or December 26th. Groups of young men had adapted the custom begun by children in going about and singing. Once children had wandered the streets, begging for a cup of hot wassail and perhaps an apple but now groups of young men would stand outside a home a sing until given a “donation”. History records that, since their singing was not always harmonious, money was sometimes given just to make them continue on to the next house. These carolers became mummers as Swedish, African, German, and the Anglican customs were all joined together in the new colonies and later the new country on the first day of the New Year.

 

“Here we stand before your door; As we stood the year before; Give us whiskey, give us gin; Open the door and let us in! Or give us something nice and hot; Like a steaming hot bowl of pepper pot!” The modern mummer is from age fifteen to eighty. Instruments never seen in a marching band, like a baritone sax, stringed instruments, or the accordion, are found in a mummer’s parade. Brightly garish costumes are made by groups who consider it a part of their patriotism as well as human benevolence. Like many things, the official Mummer’s Day Parade fell victim to harsh economic times itself but, in true mummer tradition, it also has been saved by the joining of strangers to help out a good cause.

 

When the winter winds are blowing cold, it is a good time to remember that no matter our faith or belief system, it helps us to help others. The goodwill on the streets of Philadelphia, the city known for “brotherly love”, on New Year’s Day is evidence of the hope that exists in the world. It is always a good day to be a mummer – to reach out and help others while reveling in the joy of life. There is no better way to celebrate a new year’s dawn than to be joyful and show love for one’s fellow beings on earth.

 

It takes courage to dare to show such kindness, though.  This post is being posted a day late because I thought I should not challenge you on the first day of the New Year 2019.  Life itself is sometimes its own challenge.    Throughout the past days I have challenged you, though, to participate in twelve days of kindness.  Today, on the eighth day of our twelve days, I give you this challenge:  Dare to be kind.  You can select the manner and format but ….Be kind, please.  Accept the dare and show someone a bit of kindness that we all crave and yes, need.  Dare to be the one who is kind.

 

Need

Need

2018.12.31

12 Days of Kindness

 

 

It is an old African folk tale set to music. The father is out in the field and the mother is at the well. The grandmother is at the market hoping not only to purchase but also to sell. A neighbor is watching the children who are playing out in the yard. An old man comes by and stops to tell them a story because he likes to make them laugh. His story has a moral, though, and that is when they are down by the river, they need to look out for the crocodiles. The moral of the song is the unity with which everyone comes together for the children. In Africa, there is an old saying: “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”

 

In 2014 the town of Ocean City, Maryland celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of its Play-It-Safe Ocean City program. Designed for graduating high school seniors, the three week-long program involves area merchants, local volunteers, state and county agencies and volunteers to assist with the free events for the young people. Seniors can come for one week and are given a booklet with free coupons for food and a schedule of events, all designed to help seniors celebrate their high school graduation in a drug-free environment. Free bus passes are included to help those participating navigate the city. Free events available to the seniors include free roller coaster rides, tye-dye t-shirt events, pizza eating contest, dance party, tennis tourney, laser tag mini golf, regular mini golf, dodge ball, Splash Mountain, 3-on-3 basketball tourney, beach volleyball, wind surfing, kayak relays, moonlight bowling, and karaoke.

 

In a world where many feel afraid of their neighbors, Ocean City, Maryland had adopted the African slogan and made it a celebration. During the summer of 2014, as they celeb rated their twenty-fifth year, they had seniors from sixteen states and the District of Columbia attend. Sixty thousand brochures advertising the program were sent out and twenty thousand Passport to Fun Booklets distributed. There were over forty-eight planned drug-free and alcohol-free events for the eighty-three hundred-plus attendees at no charge. This was made possible by the over three hundred businesses, organizations, and individuals who contributed services, money, and prizes. Over three hundred and fifty volunteers, private citizens, assisted as well as the employees of state, county, and municipal agencies. Over two thousand hours, half by volunteers, make this village-sponsored event a reality.

 

During Kwanza, seven candles are lit, the first being the black candle. The remaining candles, three red and three green flank the black candle. The red candles represent the principles of self-determination, cooperative economics and creativity and are placed to the left of the center black candle. To the right are the green candles which represent collective work and responsibility, purpose, and faith. This is to show that people come first, and then the struggle and finally, the hope that comes from the struggle.

 

The program in Ocean City, Maryland, is not simple. I can assure you that there are struggles. Weather delays are just one of the many surprises that life sometimes offers. However, year after year, the people and the agencies of the area continue to do this for students from outside their neighborhood. All this comes from a town of less than eight thousand year-round residents.  These residents and the annual summer residents work together as a village united, serving to provide high school seniors a safe yet fun way to celebrate their high school graduation.

 

The world with all the modern technology has gotten smaller and now it is as easy to travel half way around the world as it was for our parents to travel one hundred miles to a cousin’s house. The celebration of Kwanza is not just for those of African descent but for us all. We all need to remember that we had help getting to where we are and that we need to help others. Television has many so-called reality shows about people who want to live “off the grid” and yet, they are so popular because these people end up needing someone.

 

On this the last day of the year 2018 ACE, people will gather all around the world in crowds to usher in the New Year.  On a remote island in the south Pacific, the first festivities will commence.  They will continue much like a long row of dominoes, one leaning into the other, each needing the other to complete the path dictated by gravity which is shared by all. 

 

It is a fact that we need each other.  None of us are born alone.  Life is a team sport and perhaps, as we take part in the festivities of the season we will remember that we also take part in a greater celebration about the family of man called life. It really does take a village, not only to raise a child but to help an adult in their living as well.  We each play a vital role and not only need but are needed. 

 

You have value.  I hope as we say goodbye to 2018 we will put to bed all insecurities and past griefs.  As we usher in the new year of 2019, may we begin with renewed hope, confidence, and energy to make this new year one in which all people have value and are respected.

 

 

 

 

Clemency

Clemency

2018.12.28

12 Days of Kindness

 

“Hakuna Matata…It’s a wonderful phrase!  Hakuna Matata; ain’t a passing craze!”  If you have ever seen the movie “The Lion King”, just hearing those opening lines of one of the more popular songs has you already singing the rest of it.  “It means no worries for the rest of your days.  It’s our problem-free philosophy…”  The 1994 movie was not the first time the Swahili phrase was used in a song, however.

 

A Kenyan band used the phrase in the chorus of their hit “Jambo Bwana” and several years later a German band released an English-language song entitled “Jambo – Hakuna Matata”.  It was “The Lion King”, though, that made it a household familiar saying.  Although the phrase is Swahili, it is seldom used by native speakers of Swahili.  They prefer to either say “hamna shida” or “hamna tabu”.  The song from “The Lion King” is so popular that a Hebrew version exists online.  Everyone likes the thought of “no worries” as a way to live, it would seem.

 

Considered an unofficial motto of the country of Australia, “no worries” is a phrase that seems to speak to the supposedly relaxed nature of Australians.  Usage of the phrase goes back only about fifty years but the relaxed carefree and easy going, quick to forgive Aussie reputation dates to much earlier times.  Many feel it also characterizes the casual optimism which seems to permeate the Australian culture.

 

Can we possibly live such a philosophy?  How often do we give people a “hakuna matata” or a “hamna shida” in our daily lives?  Do we tell those who have offended us “no worries” or do we hang onto our anger?  Does that reflect the type of people we really want to be?  Is it kindness to others and, perhaps most importantly, kindness to ourselves?

 

Dr Richard M. Jacobs of Villanova University feels there is quite a bit of difference between a sermon and a homily.  The sermon, he writes, is in “the form of a lecture or discourse given for the purpose of providing religious instruction or inculcating moral behavior.”  One would seldom expect to hear the phrase “no worries” or “hakuna matata” in a sermon.

 

Dr. Jacobs characterizes a homily very differently.  “In general, a homily is a scripturally-based reflection [which] provides food for thought about the challenges of living in today’s busy and hectic world.   Ideally, the material conveyed by a Sunday homily addresses the real daily lives of ordinary people.”  While a homily might mention “no worries”, it is also doubtful that “hakuna matata” would be encouraged.  The homily is designed to be a shorter format than a sermon and was made popular by St Peter Chrysologus, a bishop appointed in 433 ACE.  Known as the “Doctor of Homilies” for his short but inspired talks, he supposedly feared boring his audience. His piety and zeal won universal admiration.

 

This leads us to an interesting point and our word and gift for this, the fourth day of our twelve days of kindness.  Today’s gift is clemency, a word which has all but become forgotten in everyday living.  Nowadays, it is used only in the judicial system.  Originally, the word “clemency” was derived from the Latin “clementia” which meant gentleness, calmness, or mildness.  It goes even further back as a compound word made from the “Latin “clemens” which translates as calm or mild and “clinare” which translates as to lean. 

 

How often do we hear the phrase clemency is our daily instructions and spiritual teachings?  While most of us would admit to wanting an overall life philosophy of “no worries” and the ability to live “hakuna matata”, few would be able to cite examples of it in their beliefs.

 

Mercy is what most deities offer their believers.  It is what most believers are encouraged to share with others.  We are not created to be judge and jury for each person we encounter.  We are told to love and show mercy, to offer clemency to those who offend us.

 

My challenge to you today, on this the fourth day, is to show someone “hakuna matata”.  Perhaps it will be that person who cuts you off in traffic.  Instead of shaking your fist at them, wish them well.  That person who hurriedly sneaks in front of you in the line at the coffee shop or marketplace…smile and give them a “No worries” response.

 

It is not always easy.  As I write this I realize I need to let go of some anger and hurt caused by the words of another just the other day.  I need to simply say “hakuna matata” and move on with my living.  After all, hanging on to negative emotions doesn’t accomplish anything.  It doesn’t burn calories; it just deprives us of feeling good ourselves.

 

So live a casual optimism and focus on the positive.  Enjoy a carefree day with a problem-free philosophy.  As with other things, giving clemency to another will build our own character.  Gandhi described prayer as “a potent instrument of action”.  I think he would agree showing mercy and offering clemency is as well.  Lewis Carroll wrote:  “One of the secrets of life is that all that is really worth doing is what we do for others.”  Sharing clemency helps both others and ourselves.    Let’smake hakuna matata more than just a passing craze; let’s make it a way of life.  Remember, to do a kindness to others and yourself adopt this attitude: “No worries, mate! G’day!”

The Longest Night

The Longest Night

2018.12.21

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

*Song lyrics in { }  written by by the English poet Christina Rossetti.  Rossetti wrote the poem in 1872 (or earlier) as a response to the magazine Scribner’s Monthlys request for a Christmas poem.  When Gustav Holst composed a melody to the poem in 1906 a new Christmas carol was born.

 

{In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone; Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, In the bleak midwinter, long ago.}  Today at 4:33 CST, the winter solstice will occur.  The date of this solstice, as with the other solstices, varies from year to year.  This is because the tropical year, the time it takes the sun to return to the same spot relative to planet Earth, is different than our calendar year.  The 21st or 22nd of December are the most common dates for the winter solstice, though.  The next solstice occurring on December 20th will not happen until 2080 and the next December 23rd winter solstice will not occur until the year 2303.  It is doubtful anyone reading this will be alive then.

 

The specific time of the winter solstice is determined by the exact instant the North Pole is aimed furthest away from the sun on a 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth’s axis.  Also at this exact time, the sun will shine directly over the Tropic of Capricorn.  While the solstice will occur within minutes of this post being published, it occurs at the exact same time worldwide and even for the astronauts on the International Space Station.

 

Since the solstice brings about the longest night of the year, it stands to reason that it is also the shortest day of the year.  After all, each day is only 24 hours, regardless where it falls on the calendar.  For example, New York City averages nine hours and fifteen minutes of daytime or sunlight, depending on the weather, on the winter solstice.  On the summer solstice it experiences fifteen hours and five minutes of daylight.  That compares to Helsinki Finland receiving five hours and 49 minutes of light and Barrow Alaska n9ot even having a sunrise.  In fact, Barrow’s next sunrise will not be until the third week of January.  The North Pole, which has a prominent role in determining the solstice, has not experienced a sunrise since October while the South Pole will not have a sunset until March.

 

Early cultures created a great many myths about the winter solstice.  Celebrations were held to beckon the return of the sun and to celebrate rebirth.  Many believe the traditional Yule logs originated in Scandinavian and/or Germanic cultures to encourage light to return to the earth.  Great feasts were prepared and cattle slaughtered so that people could dine heavily since there would be no fresh meat or vegetables for several months.

 

{Angels and archangels may have gathered there, Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air; But his mother only, in her maiden bliss, Worshiped the beloved with a kiss.}  December 21st has had a prominent role in history for other reasons, though.  The Pilgrims arrived in the New World at Plymouth, MA and went on to settle and found a society encouraging free worship.  In 1898 on this day, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium which opened the door for the Atomic Age.  On December 21, 1968, Apollo 8 was launched, becoming the first manned moon mission.  The Mayan calendar supposedly ended on December 21, 2012 and many feared it would be the end of the world.  Others believe it was the rebirth of a new era for earth.

 

Some ancient cultures believed dark spirits walked the earth at this time while others felt it to be a time of renewal.  For most people, the winter solstice is a time of continued hurrying around while they prepared for the holidays.  {What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give him: give my heart.}  How we should celebrate this longest night is by gathering energy to make tomorrow the best day ever.  It truly is a wise man/woman who does their part in helping others, sharing goodness, showing kindness to all.  On this the longest night which has followed the shortest day, I invite you to share your heart with others. 

 

https://youtu.be/U0aL9rKJPr4

The Miracle of Journey

The Miracle of Journey

2018.12.16-20

Everyday Miracles

Advent 2018

 

The Posada is a celebration of nine days (sometimes more) which depicts the journey of an older man named Joseph and a young girl of faith who was his betrothed named Mary.  An upcoming census required Joseph to return to the land of his ancestors and because Mary was his responsibility, she accompanied him.  It might have been an inconsequential story except for two things:  Mary was a virgin and yet, she was also quite pregnant.

 

Modern-day posadas are celebrations regarding the travels of Mary and Joseph which culminate in the birth of Jesus, the baby Christians believe to be the son of God, the Christ Child, their savior, the Messiah.  The word “posada” translates as “inn” but the true meaning of this celebratory event is the learning for us to be gracious hosts, not just for iconic figures but, since we all are on a journey, for every person we encounter.  This is especially timely as many are traveling to the southern borders of the US seeking recognition not for a census but to save their lives, recognition as human beings trying to find safe havens and the dream of a future for their families.  The census for Joseph would affirm his right to live and claim a heritage.  Today people are traveling great distances hoping to claim a future.

 

The world of Mary and Joseph was a difficult and dangerous place and conditions were harsh.  The couple had to leave their home in Nazareth, in the northern highlands of Galilee, to register for a Roman census.  Much as the colonists lived in 1774, Joseph was being taxed without representation since he was living outside his ancestral home.  The two had to travel 90 miles to the city of Joseph’s ancestors: south along the flatlands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and on into Bethlehem.  It was a journey that went uphill and downhill.  Most travelers were on foot but, given Mary’s impending birth, Joseph had procured a donkey.

 

I don’t know if you have ever ridden a donkey but I have.  Their backs are quite bony which makes them ideal as pack animals and most uncomfortable as riding animals.  Many of those traveling for the census would have averaged up to twenty miles a day but it is safe to estimate Mary and Joseph only accomplished ten miles daily.  The trip through the Judean desert would have taken place during the winter with daytime temperatures in the upper 30’s (Fahrenheit) and nighttime temps below freezing.   To protect themselves during inclement weather, Mary and Joseph would likely have worn heavy woolen cloaks, constructed to shed rain and snow. Under their cloaks, they would have worn long robes, belted at the waist and foot protection would have been heavy tube socks with enclosed shoes.

 

The environment through which they traveled also offered challenges.  The heavily forested valley of the Jordan River in Palestine was not a pastoral scene.   Lions and bears lived in the woods, and travelers had to fend off wild boars. Archeologists have unearthed documents warning travelers of the forest’s dangers like those Joseph and Mary might have encountered.  “Bandits, pirates of the desert and robbers” were also common hazards along the major trade routes like the one Joseph and Mary would have traveled, explains the Rev. Peter Vasko, a Catholic priest and director of the Holy Land Foundation, an organization that works to retain a Christian presence in Israel and promotes the restoration of sacred Christian sites there.  The threat of outlaws often forced solitary travelers to join trade caravans for protection.  Bread and water were carried by Mary and Joseph to eat along the way. “In wineskins, they carried water,” said Vasko. “And they carried a lot of bread. . . . Breakfast would be dried bread, lunch would be oil with bread, and herbs with oil and bread in the evening.”

 

Today the Posada is celebrated by people hosting a package for a night and then passing it along to the next family.  Normally, if traveling to Bethlehem at any other time, Joseph and his family would have been invited to stay with family members but given the extreme number of pilgrims due to the census, they had nowhere to go.  The Posada replicates the concept of inviting people into one’s home.  The Posada package is generally a basket containing the figure representing Joseph, one for Mary and an animal figure to denote the donkey.  Often a journal accompanies the figures for the hosts to journal about their evening.

 

Joseph and Mary’s hardships would have begun more than a week before the birth of their son, when the couple had to leave their home in Nazareth, in the northern highlands of Galilee, to register for a Roman census.  They had to travel 90 miles to the city of Joseph’s ancestors: south along the flatlands of the Jordan River, then west over the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and on into Bethlehem.  I arranged to pick up my Posada via email and my drive, ironically enough in an SUV called a Journey, only took 8 minutes, covering approximately 3 miles.  A thorough study of journeys reveals that a journey is much more than just movement from one place to another. Journeys are about learning and growth, and they have the potential to teach people about themselves and the society in which they live. An Imaginative Journey is one in which the individual doesn’t in fact have to go anywhere in the physical sense. The physical journey is replaced by an expedition that is fueled by the human capacity to imagine. Imaginative Journeys create endless possibilities. They can offer an escape from the realities of life, and are frequently used to comment on social or human traits and characteristics.  I discovered the Posada to be both.

 

Over 2000 years ago, Mary and Joseph made the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  They likely traveled with a caravan of other travelers, perhaps with others returning for the census for the safety and companionship of traveling in numbers.  There are no archaeological remains that allow us to know exactly what route they took—perhaps the shorter but more demanding walk along the trade route through the center of the region, or perhaps the flatter way through the Jordan River Valley.  Regardless of the route, the approximately 100-mile trip would have taken them 8-10 long days of walking.  If they went earlier then some believe, then they encountered not the cold wet winter but the blazing hot summer months.  At any time, it would not have been a pleasant nor comfortable trek. 

 

Politics necessitated this trip of Joseph and Mary and today politics are still influencing those making their own pilgrimage. Today, visitors to the Middle East can walk this route for themselves, and encounter beautiful views, rural villages, olive fields, hospitable local people and, yes, even Samaritans.  Called the Nativity Trail, it was developed by Palestinians as part of the Bethlehem 2000 Project as a tourism and economic development project.  The trail began in Nazareth, hometown of Mary, and stretched straight down through the West Bank to Bethlehem, the city of Jesus’ birth.  Sadly, shortly after the trail was inaugurated, the second intifada and subsequent closures and checkpoints made the trail almost impossible to walk from 2002-2008.  In 2008, the trail was revived with an altered route to avoid new settlement areas and other obstacles.  The trail also now usually begins in Faqu’a in the northern Palestinian Territories rather than Nazareth because of the logistical difficulties of movement between Israel and the West Bank.

 

My hosting of the Posada included a Jewish lullaby known as “joseph Dearest, Joseph Mine”,  the telling of the Nativity story in a song called “Mary Had a Baby Boy”, and a celebratory song by a Shira (Jewish males) group entitled “Rachem” (pronounced ray-him).  Rachem means both mercy and compassion and I am positive both were sought the night of Jesus’ birth.  Participating in the Posada certainly reminded me to offer both to others.

 

We all have the chance to make an everyday miracle by offering mercy, kindness, and compassion to all we encounter on our daily walk of life.  The story of Jesus’ birth is a literary hero’s tale, whether you believe in the spiritual aspects of it or not.  It also writes the first chapter of each day’s opportunity for us to become hero in our normal paths of life.  Every hero story has the hero being presented with a challenge.  At first the hero will refuse the challenge, doubtful of success.  We certainly should all be able to relate to that.  Eventually though, the hero accepts the challenge and takes that first step, committed to do his/her best.  Most of us do not have to walk ninety miles or more, though some will this week alone.  For us to do something wonderful, we only have to offer a smile, a helping hand, be generous in our sharing with others. 

 

The Posada serves to remind us we all are travelers and will, at some point in time, rely on the kindness of others.  Ursula La Guin stated that it was good to have an end to one’s journey but in the end it was the journey that mattered.  The Posada celebration is half over today but for those of us living, we have just begun today’s trek.  Arthur Ashe believed success was a journey, not a destination.  The same might be said of living.  Last night the Posada figures slept under the watchful eye of an angel statue while in another room Puerto Rican wise men statues inched closer, awaiting the Feast of Epiphany in seventeen days.   My Posada will end in a few hours, having been an everyday miracle in itself but the journey for us all is just beginning.